THE PARENTS: Amy Rothstein, 34, and Josh Rothstein, 33, of Wyndmoor
THE KIDS: Nola Bell, 3; Calvin Marcus, born September 7, 2017
A "KEEPER" MOMENT AT HOME: When Nola wakes up and says "family," and Calvin answers with a huge, toothless smile.
They'd already discovered that home-improvement projects — ripping up carpet, installing a tile backsplash — weren't quite as easy as the YouTube videos promised.
They'd encountered each other's housekeeping quirks: Josh's habit of putting trash near (but not quite inside) the wastebasket; Amy's impulse to rearrange the entire living room at 9:30 at night.
But the dog was their real test. Violet, a pit bull mix, prompted arguments about the proper approach to dog training: pragmatic or idealistic? "We were real type-A dog parents," Amy remembers. "If someone else was going to watch the dog, we'd give them a full list of instructions."
In July 2013 — the couple had been together a little more than a year, after meeting online and having an impromptu first date on St. Patrick's Day — Amy's father died suddenly. And seven months later, Violet got sick and had to be euthanized.
"The last photo I have of my dad is him holding Violet," Amy says. "It was a crappy year, and we realized we should have enjoyed her more while we had her. Nothing happened the way we planned it to."
That was true from their first meeting, an attempt to duck the drunken St. Patty's Day scene by seeking refuge at a smaller, neighborhood bar in Fairmount. Josh was so nervous that he showed Amy every single picture cached on his cellphone.
But she was impressed with his continued efforts to see her after that date, and Josh was taken with Amy's calm self-assurance. "He was still somewhat of a commitment-phobe," Amy says, "but in time, we realized that we wanted the same thing from each other."
Amy cherishes her childhood collection of puppets and stuffed animals, so Josh proposed by creating a five-minute video of those toys telling the story of their relationship. He showed her the video on an iPad at Love Park — it was a weirdly warm December day — before dropping to one knee. She said yes. They toasted with paper cups of champagne.
Once they were married, in May 2014, relatives started to nudge the pair about children. They agreed: It was time. "Amy was 31; I was almost 30," Josh says. "We thought: OK, sooner rather than later."
But they didn't expect conception to happen quite so soon, just a month after they started trying. "I had to process that on my own for a day before I said anything to Josh," Amy recalls. "The first time, it's so foreign. I was a little bit in shock about it."
Though she insisted on maintaining her former routine — riding her bicycle around town, going to the gym — other people took note of her pregnancy and showered her with advice. One woman confided that she'd felt easily sexually aroused after the birth of her child. Others offered guesses about the baby's sex. "I just had to smile and nod and keep my mind vacant.
"Once I knew we were having a baby, I did not look at any books or websites related to pregnancy or parenthood," Amy says. "I didn't want to know about worst-case scenarios. I didn't want someone else to tell me what to expect."
The advice that came Josh's way was a bit different. Dads his age reminded him to nurture his partnership. "They said, 'That first year is going to be really hard, and you need to make time for yourself. Take care of each other.' "
About a week before her due date, Amy woke up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. "I thought, 'I've lost bladder control. Then: Oh, maybe this is something else.' " In the morning, they walked to Hahnemann University Hospital. "This super-young resident came in, did the check, and said, 'Yeah, your water broke; you have to be admitted.' I started crying. I hate hospitals."
After signing a document that acknowledged they were leaving against medical advice, the pair walked home, where Amy bounced on an exercise ball until her contractions began in earnest. Back at Hahnemann, in a room busy with doctors, medical students, and nurses, they declined every offer of medication; after a long, fierce night, a resident reassured them: "What you're doing is fine. We're just going to trust you."
Then Nola arrived, and parenthood snapped into focus. "It goes from the conceptual to the real very quickly," Josh says. Amy remembers how warm the baby felt, how real. "I was just in awe of the whole process."
For the first year of Nola's life, Amy couldn't fathom having another child. "But as soon as we hit her first birthday, I thought, 'Yeah, we could think about it.' " This time, she held onto the news for several days, finally telling Josh while the two drove home from a family visit in North Jersey. "I think I'm pregnant," she said. "I know I'm pregnant."
This time, childbirth preparation consisted of potty-training Nola —"I didn't want to change diapers on two children," Amy says — and reminding herself that she had the stamina to endure another labor.
As her pregnancy progressed, Nola lit up every time someone knocked at the door. "She'd say, 'The baby's here!' " Amy recalls. "She thought someone would just deliver him."
The actual delivery, at 40 weeks and four days, involved a harrowing drive to the hospital, with Amy hovering over a birth ball in the back of their minivan, and a labor she remembers as both more painful and more intimate than her first.
The midwife asked if Josh wanted to catch the baby. He declined. When Calvin slid out, they both memorized the moment: their son's full head of dark hair; the sun-splashed room; the midwife, guiding their delivery with the calm assurance of a pro.